Making headway in lesser-known DNA

Scientists have uncovered many insights about cancer by just studying the 2 per cent of the DNA that comprise our genes.

The remaining 98 per cent of DNA that does not encode for proteins is still mostly uncharted territory but they control the genes' activities. There is increasing evidence that mutations in non-coding DNA are also responsible for cancer.

By developing two new AI-powered computer models, scientists at GIS have discovered new mutations in non-coding DNA that may cause gastric cancer.

The team used computer clusters and supercomputers at GIS and the National Supercomputing Centre Singapore to scan entire genomes of 212 gastric cancer tumours within a few months. On an ordinary computer, the analysis would have taken 30 years.

They discovered several new cancer-associated mutation hot spots in the non-coding DNA.

New evidence showed that the mutations may cause gastric cancer by altering the genome's three-dimensional structure.

Approximately one in four gastric cancer patients have mutations in their non-coding DNA. These mutations are present in other types of gastrointestinal cancers, such as colorectal, pancreatic and liver cancer.

The findings will help researchers pinpoint the roots of gastrointestinal cancers and other cancer types.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'Making headway in lesser-known DNA'. Print Edition | Subscribe